Have you ever thought of putting your name down on a Bone Marrow Register in order to be a bone marrow donor? If not please take a moment to google ‘Bone Marrow Register + your country’ to find how you can register.
@BoyardE tweeted today how Alice Pyne – a 16 year old with terminal cancer (my own daughter is 16, the thought of losing her is unimaginable) has on her bucket list “To get everyone eligible to join a bone marrow register” See Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide
The reason I am writing this is because someone in another country saved my brother’s life 8 years ago by donating Bone Marrow stem cells. Every Christmas I’m reminded of this blessing, as it was at Christmas time that he was diagnosed.
About 8 years ago my little brother, a father of 4, a medical doctor, who is qualified both as a GP (General practitioner) and an Emergency Doctor, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. This is cancer of the blood – or rather the blood making stem cells in the bone marrow, this caused him to grow abnormal blood cells. At Christmas 8 years ago he found huge black bruises on his legs. Blood tests showed he had a really nasty aggressive type, and a bone marrow transplant was recommended. This required killing off all his bone marrow with chemotherapy and then giving him healthy bone marrow stem cells, from a donor with a tissue type matched as closely as possible.
There are 4 of us siblings, so we healthy three had our tissue types done to see if they matched. Unfortunately none of us did, in fact they were all so different – it looked like we were unrelated.
This meant an unrelated donor had to be found. Within a few days one was found in Melbourne Australia. The tissue type was a very good match. However this procedure called MUD or Matched Unrelated Donor, is not without risk. When one has an organ transplant, there is always the risk of rejection, and immunosuppressant drugs are taken for the rest of ones life to decrease this rejection risk. When you have a stem cell transplant, you are changing your blood, and the blood contains immune cells. There is a risk that if not matched closely enough, the newly transplanted material attacks the transplant recipient’s body. This is called Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Rates of GVHD vary from between 30 – 40% among related donors and recipients to 60 – 80% between unrelated donors and recipients. Strong immunosuppressant drugs are required to stop this attack. If you have had an organ trasplant – like a kidney, if rejected you can remove it. However with BMT there is no organ to remove – your own new blood is attacking all your organs, and severe GVHD leads to death.
My brother’s Bone Marrow transplant was highly successful due to the very close donor match, and taking Omega 3. (I did a little research and found taking a high dose of Omega 3 considerably reduced the risk of Graft Versus Host Disease – I wrote about this in a previous post: Bone Marrow Transplants and the life saving effect of omega 3) He still able to work part time as an Emergency Doctor.
So please if you are young and healthy take a few minutes today – find out how to get tested and put yourself down on a bone marrow register as a potential donor. The person you could potentially save could be a doctor like my brother, or any of the thousands of others who’s lives have been saved.
If you are of Maori or Pacific decent, this is particularly important as there are a shortage of donors: New Zealand Bone Marrow Donor Registry
Here is my brother (at back) at a family gathering earlier this year for my mother’s 80th birthday, That’s my mum and dad in the front, my sister and I behind.